Comedian Demetri Martin discusses new show

Despite the seemingly basic title of his new Comedy Central special Demetri Martin. Standup Comedian., Demetri Martin is anything but one-dimensional.

Most will recognize the 39-year-old comedian for his biting one-liners (“Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ is the same as saying, ‘I apologize.’ Except at a funeral”), which he underscores with pleasant plucks from his guitar. Others might remember the observational “visual aids” he uses, such as the large pad to explore the paradoxes of sitting in chairs.

In our digital age, standup comedians are readily available commodities. Even talented ones are easy to come by. But with his new special, which premiered last Saturday on Comedy Central, Martin continues to prove his unique comedy techniques are as razor-sharp and cunning as ever.

Martin, who finds inspiration in everything from daydreaming and music to people watching at coffee shops, said his success comes from basing his routine on simple jokes and one-liners rather than long, drawn-out personal stories.

“My material is simple and relatable enough,” Martin said. “Kids come up to me and they tell me they like my stuff, and someone who’s like 60 also might like the jokes. They’re just basic ideas about the human condition.”

Standup Comedian is no different.

In the one-hour special, Martin doesn’t set out to offend or make sweeping remarks about any particular group. Instead, he artfully showcases his punch line prowess and innovative tactics that are guaranteed to receive laughs every time. Filmed at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, Standup Comedian features Martin playing up his established tricks brilliantly and delivering pithy remarks accompanied by his music (“It’s cool when an ex-girlfriend becomes an XL-girlfriend,” he says).

Martin even tackles new visual media like his ridiculous yet hilariously handwritten fliers — “Free tiny strips of paper!” one cleverly says — which he posted on coffee shop bulletin boards to generate a reaction.

He even shows off his physical comedy chops by demonstrating the absurdity of mechanized responses in public restrooms: “The automatic paper towel dispenser is a solution to something that was never a problem.”

Standup Comedian marks Martin’s first cable special since his Comedy Central Presents show back in 2004. When asked what he learned from his experience creating a televised special nearly six years ago, Martin claimed that the biggest challenges of the process would arise on the cutting room floor.

“When I did the first show, having seen my other friends’ specials live and then seeing how they got edited, I wanted to protect myself,” Martin said. “And by that I mean I wanted it to be the way it was when I shot it when it aired on TV.”

He added, “In my Comedy Central Presents show, I didn’t have any access to the edit. If you don’t have access, some guy you don’t know edits it a certain way and takes out the second punch line, for example, or takes your closer and puts it in the second act as opposed to the end of the show. They can do whatever they want. So, by doing something like the large pad or playing my guitar, it’s harder to edit because there’s the sequence to it.”

But Martin didn’t learn this industry savvy over night. In fact, one of his earlier jobs was as a writer for Conan O’Brien’s Late Night show in 2003, and later as a “Senior Youth” correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. From those experiences, Martin said he learned a lot about the industry, including how to write on a deadline.

“With Conan, you had to be on it, do your stuff, and hand it in,” Martin said. “At The Daily Show, I’d shoot the piece with the producer, and then we’d be in the editing room and Jon Stewart would come down and say, ‘let me see it.’ So it’s really cool because it’s not only screened for an audience, but also [for people you look up to].”

And while his late night experience was beneficial, Martin joked that he learned an even more important lesson from his time writing for these talk shows.

“I have a lot of respect for those guys, but I don’t want to do that job. That is a grind,” Martin said. “It’s [close] to doing real standup but with a lot more responsibility and staff. But it does have that pretty immediate feedback which is cool.”

But during his near-decade of mainstream standup success, Martin discovered his knack and passion for acting, which stemmed from a love of film and desire to write screenplays. In 2009, Martin created and starred in a sketch comedy series for Comedy Central called Important Things with Demetri Martin, which lasted two seasons. He also appeared in films such as The Rocker with Rainn Wilson as well as the HBO series Flight of the Concords. Though he admits that he’s still “learning as he goes” with acting, Martin is excited to absorb as much as he can from the talented people around him.

“My plan was always to write films and write parts for myself that I know I’d be perfect for, “ Martin said. “But I’d be psyched when I got parts even if they were small, because it’s cool to be on set with somebody like Ang Lee or Steven Soderbergh. It’s like being at school. I get to see how they get through their workday, how they shoot a scene, how they do the coverage … just all the different moving parts of a film. It’s really cool.”

An incredible amount of experiences have led Martin to his successful career, and even though he enjoys performing for every type of audience around the country, he says that his college fans are by far his favorite.

“College crowds are among the best because [college] is a very hopeful time in people’s lives. Even with the economy being as terrible as it has been, there’s still a certain kind of optimism and possibility on the college campus that you can’t really find anywhere else,” Martin said. “There’s a certain earnestness, and I really like that.”

His college fans especially will appreciate Standup Comedian and Martin’s honest, fresh flair on comedy. With this special, Martin is truly in his best form with his always-relatable material and quirky and unconventional methods. Authentically funny, quirky and genuinely kind, Demetri Martin is a comic that will continue to leave a lasting impact on audiences of all ages.


Demetri Martin. Standup Comedian. is available now on DVD, and the CD is available in stores and in HD on iTunes, Zune and Amazon Instant.